How to Thrive at 85

Joshua 14:6-14

June 3, 2019 | Ray Pritchard

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This is the story of a man who was just getting started at age 85.

I appreciate Caleb and his exploits more today than I did 20 years ago. After all, I’m only 19 years behind Caleb, and I’m closing the gap every day. In that spirit, I’d like to share a few excerpts from something I found on the internet called “51 Signs You’re Getting Older–Large Print Edition.” You know you’re getting older when . . .

 1. Everything hurts, and what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work.
 2. The gleam in your eyes is from the sun hitting your bifocals.
 3. You sit in a rocking chair and can’t get it going.
 4. Your knees buckle, and your belt won’t.
 5. You sink your teeth into a steak, and they stay there.
 6.You’re asleep, but others worry you’re dead.
 7. Your back goes out more than you do.
 8.You enjoy hearing about other people’s operations.
 9. People call at 9 PM and say, “Did I wake you?”
10. Your ears are hairier than your head.

Someone said old age is when you’ve got it all together, but you can’t remember where you put it. Let’s talk about Caleb, an old man who had it all together and knew where he put it.

In the Bible some men stand out above others. Moses outshines Joshua, yet Joshua not Moses conquers the Promised Land. Joshua outshines Caleb, yet Caleb not Joshua defeats the giants. When Dr. Criswell preached on Caleb, he called him “Mr. Greatheart,” which sounds right to me because six times we are told Caleb wholeheartedly followed the Lord. He was a mighty warrior for God.

Let’s begin by reading what Caleb said to Joshua in Joshua 14:6-14:

6 You know what the Lord said to Moses
           the man of God at Kadesh Barnea
           about you and me. 

7 I was forty years old when
                 Moses the servant of the Lord sent me
           from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. 

And I brought him back a report
           according to my convictions, 

but my fellow Israelites who went up with me
                 made the hearts of the people melt in fear. 

I, however, followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.

 9 So on that day Moses swore to me,
           “The land on which your feet have walked
           will be your inheritance and that of your children forever,
because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.”

10 Now then, just as the Lord promised,
he has kept me alive for forty-five years
           since the time he said this to Moses,
           while Israel moved about in the wilderness.

So here I am today, eighty-five years old! 

11 I am still as strong today as the day
                 Moses sent me out;
I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle
           now as I was then. 

12 Now give me this hill country
                 that the Lord promised me that day.
You yourself heard then that the Anakites
           were there and their cities were large and fortified,
but, the Lord helping me,
           I will drive them out just as he said.

We need the Caleb spirit today

13 Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh
                 and gave him Hebron as his inheritance.
14 So Hebron has belonged to
                 Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite ever since,
because he followed the Lord,
           the God of Israel, wholeheartedly.           

What happened at Kadesh Barnea? Most of us know the answer because this is one of the most famous stories in the Bible. Moses sent out 12 spies, one from each tribe, to scout out the Promised Land. After 40 days the men came back with good news and bad news. The spies reported that the land was flowing with milk and honey. They brought back grapes and pomegranates so the people could sample them. The Promised Land lived up to its name. It was worth the long trek through the wilderness. That was the good news. But the bad news was much worse. The cities were filled with hostile Canaanites who lived behind walls that seemed to stretch to heaven. Furthermore, there were giants in the land, a host of physically intimidating bad guys who made the Jews feel like grasshoppers.

Ten of the spies concluded there was no way the Jews could successfully take the land. They would have to find some other place to live because if they invaded Canaan, they would certainly be defeated.

The majority isn’t always right

Two of the spies disagreed. Joshua and Caleb saw what the others saw, but they also remembered God’s promise to go with them and give them victory. Because the people gave in to their fear, they were sentenced to wander for 40 years in the wilderness where the unbelieving generation died off.

There are many lessons here, including the obvious one that the majority is not always right. Often the majority is dead wrong. In this case, they were not only wrong, all ten of the unbelieving spies ended up dead and never made it to the Promised Land.

While the people were making up their minds, Caleb made this impassioned plea in Numbers 14:9:

“Do not rebel against the Lord.
           And do not be afraid of the people of the land,
           because we will devour them.
Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us.
           Do not be afraid of them”

That phrase, “We will devour them,” literally reads, “They are like bread to us,” meaning, “We’re going to eat them up.”

That’s how a man of God talks!

Caleb saw the problems. He saw the same walls and the same giants the ten spies did. It’s not as if he’s denying their report. He knows it’s going to be a tough fight, but Caleb had a big God! He understood that one man plus God equals a majority.

It’s as if he is saying, “Strap it on, boys. Pick up your swords. Grab your helmets. Let’s go take the land!”

Caleb talked like a man of God!

But because the people gave in to their fears and were afraid to fight, they wandered in the desert for 40 years. Slowly the whole unbelieving generation died off. The only ones left were Joshua and Caleb.

So now we fast-forward 45 years. After Moses died, Joshua led the new generation across the Jordan River. Jericho falls, then Ai, then they conquer the cities to the south, then the north. Now it is time to divide the land and settle in.

Frank Thomas and Tim Tebow

Here comes Caleb. He’s 85, but he acts like he’s 45. This story reminds me of those supplement commercials I see on TV with Frank Thomas talking about how some pill has given him new energy and stamina. I also like the one set in a restaurant where a young wife is urging her husband to start a workout program. Tim Tebow happens to be sitting in the next booth when he overhears the conversation. He urges the young man to check out his personal training program, whereupon the wife says to her husband, “You should do whatever he’s doing.” We all need whatever supplement Caleb was taking or whatever program he was following because he was still going strong at 85.

He believed once a soldier, always a soldier.
He hasn’t retired.
He’s ready to fight.

Once a soldier, always a soldier

Consider what God said about Caleb in Numbers 14:24, “My servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly.” How would you like that on your resume? God looked at Caleb and said, “This man is different. He’s not like the others. He has a different spirit.” That’s the secret of his life.

Why did God bless Caleb? Here are three answers to that question.

#1: He Believed God When Others Wouldn’t

Peer pressure can be good or bad. It’s never easy to go against the crowd, especially when your friends are going another direction. If the people you know say it can’t be done,           it’s hard to stand up and say, “You’re wrong.” At Kadesh Barnea it was Joshua and Caleb against the whole nation. I understand why Israel followed the doubters. I’m sure they were persuasive with all their talk of walled cities and giants that made them feel like grasshoppers. Fear is contagious. Who wants to enter a battle thinking there is no way you can win? That’s how the Israelites felt. Besides, how could ten men get it so totally wrong? Who are you going to believe—the ten or the two?

It’s easy to follow the naysayers

It’s human nature for people to follow the naysayers.
That doesn’t make it right, but it helps us understand what happened.

If enough people repeat a lie, pretty soon the lie begins to sound like the truth.
That’s how you get Fake News.

It sounded perfectly reasonable, and from a purely human point of view, the 10 spies were right. The Jews didn’t stand a chance on their own. But God had said, “I will go with you.” That changes the odds instantly. If God goes with you, how can you lose? That’s the whole point, isn’t it?

Give Caleb the credit he deserves. When the whole nation gave in to fear, Caleb and Joshua stood alone against the multitude. They were right, and the majority was dead wrong.

#2: He Never Let Go of God’s Promise

Caleb was 40 years old when Moses sent out the twelve spies to check out the Promised Land. After the children of Israel made the wrong choice, he heard all their complaints:

“I wish we were back in Egypt.”
“I’m sick of this manna and quail.”
“Why are we going in circles?”
“Moses stinks as a leader.”
“If I were in charge, I’d get this thing organized.”

The people wouldn’t stop complaining!

Read Numbers. It’s all there. The people complained and moaned and griped the whole 40 years. It must have wearied Moses. I’m sure Joshua and Caleb got tired of the constant carping.

But now they are in the Promised Land.
Moses is dead.
The unbelieving generation is dead.
General Joshua has led them to a long string of victories.
The whole land stretches out in front of them.

After 45 years, Caleb steps back on the stage of biblical history. He’s an old man now, way past retirement age, but someone forgot to tell him he was too old.

Someone forgot to tell Caleb he was too old

So he said, “Give me the hill country!”

He had his eyes set on Hebron. When Abraham died, the only land he owned was the sacred burial ground at Machpelah in Hebron. He bought it from Ephron the Hittite for 400 shekels of silver (Genesis 23). Abraham purchased the land so he could bury his wife Sarah. Over the years it became the final resting place for many of Israel’s founders:


Hebron was in the hands of the pagan Canaanites. As far as Caleb was concerned, that land belonged to God’s people. He intended to take it back.

Why did he say, “I want that mountain!”? He said it because he never let go of God’s promise, and he never forgot what that land meant. At an age when most men are slowing down, Caleb was just getting started. He had the pedal to the metal, and he wasn’t about to ease up.

I like the way my friend Jack Graham puts it, “If you’re not dead, you’re not done. God still has work for you to do.”

 # 3: He Wholeheartedly Followed the Lord

This fact explains Caleb’s success. Six times (in Numbers and Joshua) we are told he wholeheartedly followed the Lord. When James Montgomery Boice preached on Caleb, he pointed out that great men tend to be simple men. They are men captured by one big idea. Weak men have divided loyalties, so they can never commit with a whole heart to anything. They are here, there, and everywhere all the time. They are never totally committed to anything. But Caleb was a simple man at the core. He believed God, he remembered his promises, and in his old age he was ready to claim what God had promised him. When others were pulled seven different ways, he wholeheartedly followed the Lord.

“The giants are too big too miss!”

Caleb didn’t consult the daily tracking poll to decide whether he would believe what God said. He didn’t stick his finger up to see which way the wind was blowing. For that matter, he didn’t ask his friends what they were going to do. Every day when he got up, he determined in his heart to follow the Lord. In that sense, he’s the exact opposite of the double-minded man of James 1:6-8. Tossed to and fro by the winds of popularity and public opinion, the double-minded man can never make up his mind about anything.

But Caleb was different. If God said, “Take the land,” Caleb said, “Grab your swords, boys! It’s time to go to war.” He didn’t let anything distract him from doing God’s will.

So what really happened back at Kadesh Barnea?

Ten spies said, “Look how big those giants are compared to us.”
Caleb said, “Look how small they are compared to God.”

The cowards said, “They are too big for us to fight.”
Caleb said, “They are too big to miss.”

We need that spirit today. We’ve got plenty of nice people–Christian people!–who go along to get along. They want to stand for Christ, but they are worried about what others will think. They intend to take a stand, but when the time comes, they are nowhere to be found. They are “summer soldiers” and “sunshine patriots” who disappear when the bullets start flying.

If we are going to defeat the giants, someone will have to say, “We have the promise of God. Let’s get ready to rumble.”

Coming Down the Homestretch

I have thought about this a lot the last few months, especially in the weeks after I broke my ankle and ended up spending almost three months BBR (Bed, Bathroom, Recliner). I had plenty of time to consider what God was saying to me.

I had already been thinking about the next season of life. Let me tell you how God got my attention. I was teaching at Word of Life Bible Institute in upstate New York in the dead of winter with a foot of snow on the ground. I flew in on Monday and got started Tuesday morning. After teaching for three hours, I ate lunch with a few faculty members plus my longtime friend Mike Calhoun. I don’t remember much about the meal or the conversation because I was tired and cold and not feeling great.

Games are won in the 4th quarter

The next day I was having lunch in the Bollback Student Center when I happened to see Mike as we passed in the aisle. He greeted me and then said he had something to say to me. Mike and I have been friends for 45 years. He can say anything he wants to me.

“Pritchard, I don’t want to hear you talking like you did yesterday.” 

Because Mike is a true friend, I was not bothered when he said that. I guess I must have sounded too negative. Maybe I kvetched a little too much. So he told me (cheerfully, but firmly) he didn’t want to hear that sort of thing from me anymore. Recently he had spoken with a well-known pastor who is now in his 70s. That man asked Mike a simple question: “When are football games won or lost?” The answer is obvious. Almost every game is won or lost in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter.

Mike leaned in (we were still in the aisle with students passing on both sides of us) and said, “Ray, you and I aren’t young anymore. We can’t kid ourselves. We’re down to the last few minutes of the fourth quarter. But the thing is, we don’t know how much time we have. We don’t know if we have five minutes left, or three minutes, or maybe just 30 seconds.” Then he added, “We have to play like our whole life is on the line because it is. We don’t have time to complain about anything. Coaches tell players to ‘play through the whistle.’ That’s what we have to do. We’ve got to get in the game and play hard and fast because we know our time is short. If we do our part, soon enough the game will end, and the Lord will tell us the final score.”

God calls us to “play through the whistle”

I don’t think Mike knows how important those words were to me. I am 66 years old. I became a Christian 50 years ago. Marlene and I have been married for 44 years. Our three sons are all in their mid-to-late 30s. Our oldest son turns 40 in November. I don’t feel old every day, but I can’t deny the passage of time. Mostly I feel the loss of energy. When I was 30, my energy seemed like an inexhaustible well. Today it feels like a balloon that has sprung a leak. I’ve got energy, but not nearly what I had ten years ago. It goes out quicker, and it takes longer to blow up the balloon.

I’ve been pondering where I am in the race of life. I entered the starting gate 66 years ago. I rounded the first turn when I was 25. I spent a long time on the backstretch. But sometime in the last few years, I started down the homestretch. My whole life hangs in the balance. I have not yet finished the race or won the prize. As I come down the homestretch of life, I’m not sure where the finish line is, except that it’s somewhere in front of me.

My job is to keep running hard until I cross the finish line. In the ultimate sense, it doesn’t matter when that happens, whether today, tomorrow or 25 years from now. The precise moment doesn’t matter because I can’t know it in advance, but what matters is that I find the strength from the Lord to “play through the whistle and run through the tape.”

We need the Caleb spirit today, don’t we?
The older we get, the more we need it.

I ran across this poem that sums up Caleb’s story:

He stood before Joshua with flashing eyes;
“Give me this mountain before I die!”

“But Caleb, you’re old and the mountain is high;
Choose a peaceful spot on this plain to die;
The people who live on the mountain are strong;
The battle you fight will be bloody and long.”

And as for the people being mighty and tall;
The bigger they are, the harder they fall!

His eyes never wavered as he spoke without fear;
“I’ve been promised this mountain for 45 years!
And as for the people being mighty and tall;
The bigger they are, the harder they fall!

For it’s not my strength on which I’m countin’;
For the Lord is going to give me that mountain;
So let’s quit talking while it’s still light,
For the Lord and I have a battle to fight!”

With that in mind, let us resolve, no matter our age or station in life, that we will . . .

Never release God’s promise,
Never retire from serving God, and
Never retreat from the enemy.

Let’s keep going for Jesus with all the strength God gives us.

I come back to the words of Jack Graham: “If you’re not dead, you’re not done. God still has work for you to do.” Let’s laugh a lot, let’s encourage each other, and let’s keep serving Jesus.

Let’s play through the whistle and run through the tape.
May God fill us with the Caleb spirit today!

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?